Driftmoon Hands-On: The Top Is Down And The Weather’s Just Fine For Traveling…

Yes, it’s taken a bit of time for me to get around to playing that new Driftmoon demo I mentioned last month, but I’m absolutely more than pleased that I spent a few hours yesterday exploring the early part of the game which was awesome enough to leave me begging to see how the final build will turn out. Instant Kingdom (that’s Ville and Anne Mönkkönen, last time I checked) have created a lovely top down Adventure/RPG that can be tailored for anyone from novices who prefer a lighter combat option to hardcore players who want enemies that bite back hard. It also doesn’t hurt that the writing here is well done and often amusing in tone, offering a RPG experience that allows for different outcomes to certain quests. Toss in an excellent map system, some very well thought out combat, a great soundtrack and the ability to send feedback to the developers as you play and what’s here is shaping up to be a superb little indie game.

The demo gets rolling with you naming the hero and choosing one of four difficulty levels which nets you anywhere from three to zero starting skill points. The game begins with your character getting pushed into a well by his mother (for a good reason, mind you) and once you’re out of that situation, you find that almost everyone in the small village you’ve strolled into has been turned into stone. Finding out who or what did this as well as how to return them to normal is of course a main goal in the game. But expect a bit of a deeper mystery to tickle your brain as more of the back story drifts into the game while you adventure away.  You’d think that with everyone in town turned to stone, you’d have not so much to do, but the demo offers up a nice amount of content if you do a bit of exploring in and around the opening areas.

One thing that’s great here is the balance between whimsical and serious elements. You’ll find assorted notes, signs and books that explain monsters, hint at secrets yet to be discovered or just plain tell you important information. Nothing is dry and boring to read on this island (from what I’ve seen) and other than some minor typos, the text is chock full of well written text. In probably the best design move I’ve seen in a game that uses reading so much, you can actually scale the text to different sizes at any time on the Options screen. This makes and old goat like me happy, as I so hate console and PC games that think EVERYONE has the best and biggest HD monitor along with better than perfect vision to read that microscopic text and dialog.

Even the combat avoids the traditional click-fest you’d expect, replacing all that peripheral abuse with a dirt simple one-click solution. See an enemy nearby? One click and you’re on it, hacking or shooting away until it’s dead. With a bow, you can even advance or back up while firing arrows (take THAT, big-budget over-hyped RPGs with zero offline modes!). But, Driftmoon isn’t simply about killing beasties and looting chests. The game also lets you choose how to deal with certain enemies based on your dialog choices. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are a few encounters that can be altered significantly if you choose the correct dialog strings and maybe complete a side quest or two.  Being a nicer guy also nets some decent experience, some handy stat-boosting items or gear and in at least two cases, some positive Karma (which is a lot better than some sharp teeth in one’s butt).

From the moment the game is installed and fired up, you’ll see some lovely attention to detail in every area. The top down viewpoint will seem alien to many players more used to classic JRPG’s with 2D sprites, isometric or more traditional third or first-person viewpoints, but it’s not only easy to get used to, it actually works in the game’s favor. The camera can be scrolled in and out with the mouse wheel allowing you to see more of the environment (as well as items that can be retrieve, nearby enemies and.or allies). Movement is fluid, although you have to get used to not moving the mouse so much lest your hero look as if he’s spinning around in small circles). There’s a day./night cycle in play that has you using torches or other light sources, crafting that simply requires ingredients and blueprints (no long trips to out of the way shopkeepers), some great passive and active skills and of course, plenty of hot keys to assign them to.

There are a couple of other smart design decisions in terms of the indoor/outdoor maps that allow you to warp to previously visited locations (say goodbye to backtracking in dungeons!), the ability to create and save mods (making this one a must for tinkerers) and as noted, you can even report bugs or just comment on the game directly to the folks making it (provided you’re online when you’re typing out your thoughts on that feedback form). I know I’m being a bit vague about just what’s happening and how the demo “ends”, but that’s because I really want YOU to experience Driftmoon for yourselves. The demo (which gives you about 2 hours of play, but I tend to take longer, crazy explorer guy that I am) and level editor are FREE and the full version can be pre-ordered for €14.99 (that’s about $20 US), making this an incredible value for a game that’s coming together so well.

Ulterior motive confession: I’m actually hoping the game does well just because I want to see the Mönkkönens work on a Magebane sequel at some point. But don’t let them know that just yet – I’m just hoping that enough people support Driftmoon so we can see it hit more platforms at some point. It sure would make a fantastic console port, that’s for sure…

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